Watt by Watt

Saving energy is fun when you do it yourself

| September/October 2002

Arcata, CaliforniaOn Campus, Off the Grid

Students at Humboldt State University in northern California have devised a system for powering their dorm with a blend of solar, wind, and pedal power. The Campus Center for Appropriate Technology has been off the grid since 1991, reports Earth Island Journal (Summer 2001). The residential center not only taps the power of sun and wind but also uses a 'human energy converter' to link a fleet of stationary bikes to small 12-volt generators, which in turn power laptops, TVs, washing machines, and other home appliances. When they want to hold a rock concert or political rally, students hop on the bikes and power the sound system.

Sacramento, CaliforniaMade in the Shade

Sacramento has an old-fashioned way of helping people beat the summer heat. According to OrionAfield (Summer 2002), the municipally owned power utility furnishes residents with shade trees planted in strategic locations. Since 1991, they've delivered 312,000 trees to more than 100,000 Sacramento County residents. About three years after being planted, the trees fill out and residents can turn down their air conditioners, lowering their energy bills and taking the edge off peak summer electricity demand.

Port Angeles, WashingtonMagnet Power

Superpowerful magnets could dramatically increase the nation's energy efficiency. That's the vision of Jerry Lamb, who has invented a way to cut the power needed to run industrial pumps and other devices driven by electric motors. The trick is to 'soft start' the pump shafts with magnet power, slowly whirring them up to speed, rather than wasting the electricity it takes to get standard machinery running full blast all at once. As reported in Orion Afield (Summer 2002), the 50 installations where Lamb's MagnaDrive devices are already at work have showed energy savings of 20 to 66 percent. Lamb, based in Port Angeles, Washington, got start-up help from the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a regional consortium dedicated to lowering energy use. (www.nwalliance.org)

Spirit Lake, IowaLearning from Wind
The Spirit Lake, Iowa, school district installed, at a cost of $1 million, two wind turbines that provide all the electricity it needs. They've already paid off the first turbine, erected in 1993, and they'll own the newer, bigger one within five years. Seeing their last electricity bill won't be the only benefit. They'll also begin selling about $120,000 worth of surplus power back to the local utility. What's more, according to Orion Afield (Summer 2002), the turbines are a great tool for teaching math and science, giving kids a hands-on demonstration of clean energy at work.

-Maria Opitz